February 11, 2011

Visit to Saul's House

Saul Bobroff is a puzzle collector with a great collection who lives fairly close to me, and a month ago he was kind enough to invite me to his house! I had been there about a year and a half ago for a Boston-area puzzle party that he hosted, which I wrote about here.

My main reason for stopping by was to test out a puzzle he is producing. It was quite cool, but I can't give you any more info than that for now. How mysterious! I brought the Karakuri Club Christmas presents and Gordian Knot Puzzle Box, which kept Saul busy while I was working on his puzzles.

After working on the mystery puzzle, he brought out this puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro). Iwahiro has created some very cool puzzles that I wrote about previously, such as award-winning Odd Packing Puzzle, MMMM, and Dinghy.

As you can see from the diagram in the photo, there are seven pieces that you're trying to fit into a box with holes in it. As is frequently the case with Iwahiro puzzles, it involves coordinate motion (moving multiple pieces at the same time).

I think it took me about 5 minutes to solve this one. I could sort of tell how it was going to work, but actually implementing the solution took quite a bit of dexterity, since six of the pieces need to move at once. Also, there are holes on every side of the box, so it is quite easy for something to accidently fall out while you are working on it.

The one thing about this puzzle is that the frame is made out of particle board, which gives it a rough feel. This is the same material he used for ODD Packing Puzzle and MMMM, but due to the motion required in this puzzle, I found the roughness somewhat more annoying than usual. It lacks the elegant simplicity of the previous three puzzles I mentioned, but is still a fun little puzzle and a good challenge!

Next, Saul brought out a box that contained a number of puzzles by Frank Chambers! Frank has created a number of interesting puzzles out of corian, which is an unusual choice of materials.

This was his exchange puzzle for IPP 22. It consists of a cylinder with a ball in it, and the idea is to get the ball out of the cylinder. On one end of the cylinder is an opening, but it is obstructed by a plastic part that the ball won't quite fit through. There is a plunger on the other side, but it isn't long enough to give the ball a good push through the plastic obstruction.

This one had me stumped for a little while, but eventually I figured it out. I think it took about 10 minutes. It seemed impossible, but indeed there is a clever solution that I eventually discovered. Getting the ball back in was another problem, because you don't have the plunger to help you out! That took a bit of doing, but eventually I got it back in.

Here's another puzzle by Frank called The Oriental Toothpick Safe. It was his IPP21 exchange puzzle. This is a puzzle box, so I was intrigued to see how it would work.

The lid will slide left or right and sometimes it will slide a bit further, but it won't quite come off! Quite perplexing. After about 30 minutes, I started to see what the pattern was, and shortly after that I was able to open it. Still, I wasn't quite sure what the mechanism was, and probably wouldn't be able to reproduce the feat again quickly at that moment.

The mechanism is hidden even with the box open, but by removing the black plastic stopper, the lid will slide all the way off, revealing the mechanism. Saul was kind enough to let me do this, and I was quite surprised to see that the mechanism is actually the same as Maple Chest by CMC Puzzles! However, since the construction is better, the mechanism works as intended much more reliably. Also, since there is no gap between the lid and the box, my solution to maple Chest would not work. This makes for a much more subtle and interesting puzzle. I really liked this one because it requires you to pay attention to what's going on as you manipulate it.

There were a few others I tried, but the highlight of my visit was the chance to work on a Stewart Coffin original Rosebud! As you can see from the photo, it is a beautiful-looking puzzle! Check out the link above for nicer photos. Also, check out this link to Stewart Coffin's description of this puzzle in The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections.

The really amazing thing about this puzzle is that if you position your hands in just the right place, all six pieces simultaneously expand outwards, like a rose opening. Beautiful! There is a small pin that keeps the puzzle from coming apart accidently as you do this, because it is a real beast to get back together!

Here's an excerpt from Coffin's description that really intrigued me:
A few of these puzzles were produced some years ago and sold unassembled. After sufficient time had elapsed and almost none had been solved, the customers were given the opportunity to purchase (for an outrageous price!) an assembly jig and directions. With these, it is easy. Without the jig, it can be done with patience, using tape and rubber bands. Without such aids, it has been done but borders on the impossible.
That sounded like a challenge to me! This puzzle has come up for sale at various auction sites, but never at a price I could afford, unfortunately. I really wanted a copy since it is such a beautiful design! Also, I wanted the chance to try something that borders on the impossible.

Saul was kind enough to give me this chance: I was thrilled when he said that I could take it apart completely, just as long as I got it back together eventually. He said I could always take it home and work on it if I got stuck. It turns out that I'm actually the first person to have taken this puzzle apart, he bought it directly from Coffin and hasn't been foolhardy enough to take it apart yet.

So, with some trepidation, I removed the safety pin and expanded the puzzle to the point where it collapsed. What had I gotten myself into! I was soon left with six pieces, and little idea on how I would restore them to their original position.

After I had gotten oer the shock, I started to put the pieces together again. I assembled three pieces to form the top, and three pieces to form the bottom, but of course you can't just put them together, they need to be expanded to the point of collapse in order to fit! Much like the way I solved Spinning Icosahedron, I tried putting in one piece at a time. The first three were easy, then the fourth, but the fifth was really difficlt to get in!

You have to push the pieces out in the coordinate motion while keeping them from falling out of place, and then slide the piece in. Phew! Here's a photo of me after about 30 minutes of working on this damn puzzle, looking a bit haggard. Now how do I get the sixth piece in? Surely this would be even tougher.

Indeed it was! Again, I expanded the puzzle to the point of collapse, and tried to insert the sixth piece ever so carefully. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side and the whole thing collapsed!

This happened a few times, but after about an hour, I finally got it back together. Saul was over in the kitchen, and I proclaimed with glee that I had done it. Here's a photo of me beaming after I had done it.

I was pretty proud to have done it with no tape or rubber bands. I tried using the bubble wrap in front of me to give the pieces a bit more traction when setting the puzzle down, but the final piece was placed using just my hands. Needless to say, I will not be trying to do this again anytime soon, it was quite an ordeal!

I can't express how thrilled I was to finally get to try this puzzle. I had been wanting to do this since I first read about it in The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections, so it was great to finally get a chance to do it. I'd still love to buy a copy at some point (not necessarily a Coffin original) so let me know if you have one you're willing to part with!

Thanks again to Saul for inviting me into his home! It was great seeing him and chatting about puzzles.


  1. Great job with the Rosebud! I've only tried the Combination Lock, which has 6 dissimilar pieces. I managed to get it together unassisted a few times, I wonder if maybe if the coordinate motion is easier than for the Rosebud? The dissimilar pieces was the hard part.

    I'm not happy to see video ads appearing on your blog. :-(

  2. Thanks George! It was a tough one, I'd love to try Combination Lock sometime. Is it also 6-way coordinate motion?

    Sorry about the video ads! I hate noisy ads too, so I'll look to see if there is a way to block those. I can block specific URLs if you find some that are particularly annoying. Also, depending on which browser you use, you can find ad-blockers that hide ads.

  3. Yes, Combination Lock is a "harder?" version of Rosebud, also 6-way coordinate motion. You can see it in Coffin's book: Geometric Puzzle Design, where it has replaced Rosebud.

    The video ads seem to have disappeared for the moment ...

  4. Ah, interesting! I'll have to give it a try at some point. I will look it up in Geometric Puzzle Design when I get home.

    I took a look at the Blogger ad settings, and it looks like I only have the options of 'Text' and 'Text and Images', so I don't think there should be video. If you see it again, snap a screenshot or something and I can gripe to somebody! Also, I read about Google Adsense video ads, and they shouldn't start automatically, so maybe it was pulled for not complying with the rules.


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